Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs hockey coach Jeff Ruff knows it's imperative for his team to set the tone of play.
Friday against Mitchell, the Sailors wasted little time in their 8-1 win.
Less than a minute into the first period - on the first shift of the game - Steamboat winger Jake Stanford found Greg Ingalls for the first goal of the game.
"The guys came out and played hard and we were happy with the results," Ruff said.
The Sailors scored two more times in the first period on goals from Alex Palanivk and Jim Terry to take a 3-0 lead into the second period.
But in the second, Ruff said the Sailors play got sloppy. Steamboat didn't score and Mitchell capitalized on a puck that got stuck in some water in front of Sailor goalie Jeff Dawes.
Heading into the third period with a 3-1 lead, Ruff said the coaching staff challenged the players to take back control of the game.
The result was five goals, including Terry's second of the game and ones from Grant Ehrick, Michael Weston, Cody Fritz and Tim Ascher.
"We have to come out and set the tempo and maintain a high level of play no matter who we're playing," Ruff said. "We let down a little in the second but we came back real hard in the third."
After playing some of the top teams in the state before the holiday break, the Sailors are playing a stretch of games where Ruff admitted the competition isn't up to the level of some of the teams they've played.
Still Ruff said the stretch has given him an opportunity to give some of the developmental players playing time and let the team work on individual skills.
"For us, the way we're trying to do our short term goals is to raise the skill level," Ruff said. "We work on plays we need to be successful when we play some of the teams that are rated high in the state."
With the win the Sailors improved to 6-1-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
For Ruff it's the conference win that matters the most.
"The non conference games before the break were good help with tie-breakers but we need to be wining these conference games," he said. "That gives us the best possible playoff seed. That gives us the best chance to roll through the playoffs."
Steamboat plays today against Doherty at 10:45 a.m. in Colorado Springs.
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